Today is the 13th, and final, post for my Pacific Crest Trail writing project. As of April 27, 2016, it will be exactly one year since I started walking north at the US/Mexico border trying to reach Canada on foot. When I started this blog project about my PCT experience, I didn’t know exactly where I was heading with it. And, maybe today I’m still a little unsure, feeling exposed and strange about having shared so much with the World Wide Web but I feel confident that it is what I was supposed to do.
Recently, I have spent time reading back through my Facebook posts from last summer, my blog posts, and my trail journals, continuing to wrap my brain around my growth and journey on the PCT. In this re-reading and listening I have noticed a pattern for living a life that I shared at the beginning of this project and am realizing its powerful presence throughout the narrative of my life. In my first post I shared this section from the Mary Oliver poem, Sometimes:
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
This is what I want to focus on today . . . these three very important instructions.
A couple years ago, my spiritual director suggested I try a practice of each day taking time to answer the questions, “Where did I notice God’s presence today” and “What am I thankful for today?” When I intentionally look for God in my day, when I take time to pay attention to others and look for the “Imago Dei” or image of God in them, when I pay attention to what is going on inside of myself, I notice God’s love, creativity, grace, and presence all around.
God is present . . . All. The. Time. This is something I believe but sometimes forget in the midst of daily life happening. Over and over again on the trail and now back at home, I have been reminded of this truth. I have been reminded that paying attention–practicing awareness and being present to what is going on in and around us in each moment–is the first step to recognizing the Divine Presence in our lives. We must take the time to pay attention.
Paying attention helps me stay grounded. Paying attention shows me how to care for creation–others, the earth, and myself. Paying attention helps me find joy and reverence in each day. Paying attention reveals how God is at work in the world, offering me hope when I am pulled towards fear and despair. Paying attention and answering the question “Where did I notice God’s presence today” is what leads us into being able to live out the second instruction.
Sunrise summit of Mt. Whitney. Astonishing.
When I am present, when I truly pay attention and notice God’s presence, I can’t help but be astonished. This instruction goes hand in hand with the second question my spiritual director had me answer, “What am I thankful for today?” Practice gratitude, be amazed, find beauty, say thank you. Don’t let life go by without letting that feeling of astonishment and amazement wash over you. Let yourself feel it. Even in the hard, messy, yucky moments of life, eventually–eventually somewhere down the road sometime–I think we will find something we are grateful for and astonishes us.
The third quote I memorized on the PCT comes from theologian and writer, Frederick Buechner. From the time I memorized the quote, I said it each following day as I hiked, a constant reminder to notice how precious each day is:
In the entire history of the universe, let alone your own history, there has never been another day just like today. Today is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.
Pay attention and be astonished, friends, because this day, today, is the moment all things have lead to and all will proceed from.
Tell About It:
This is the tricky part, the part where we get a little reluctant, nervous, and closed off. I’m not talking about sharing a post on Facebook that showcases how cool our life may be or what we want others to see. I’m talking about your honest story, the narrative that you are co-authoring with God, the story that you have been given to live and share.
In an earlier post I shared that I had asked different people in my life to send me on the PCT with quotes, scripture, songs, etc. to memorize along the way. I had also asked this group of people to share any other thoughts they felt led to offer or suggestions of things for me to process. My brother, Luke, gave me a couple of the more difficult. One was a verse and the second was this question:
“What would the world miss if you didn’t share your story?”
Seriously? Luke . . . have we talked about how hard this question was for me to answer?
I’m in my mid-thirties, quitting jobs, with a messy sometimes confusing spirituality, trying to very intentionally navigate life with a bunch of dreams that may or may not happen. What would the world be missing if I didn’t share my story? I had no freaking clue.
But I stuck with it. I thought about the question over a few weeks; even shed a few tears of frustration over it because life was looking quite different than I ever thought it would (still awesome for sure, but different).
As I hiked and spent time with other thru hikers, sharing bits of my life with them, I realized more and more what the world would miss if I didn’t share my story and what the world would miss if none of us shared our stories: Perspective, hope, courage, and solidarity.
When someone tells me his or her life story it is a sacred moment. When someone trusts me with their doubts and questions, shares how they have overcome, makes me laugh over an embarrassing moment, brings me joy in telling me about their passion for something, I receive a new way of looking at things. I receive hope that I, too, can overcome, pursue abundant life and have the courage to be honest about the good and the hard things in my life.
Most importantly, this instruction to “Tell About It” is vital because when we share our narratives with each other we hear these two words, “Me, too.” I think this is one of the most powerful things we can say to each other as we seek to live authentic, whole, and love and grace filled lives. “Me, too” tells us we are not alone, someone understands, and we aren’t the only one.
As I have shared blog posts of my learning and growth on the PCT I have heard “Me, too” almost weekly. This doesn’t mean that I had anything new or mind-blowing to say, in fact, all of it is something that someone before me has written about, talked about, made into a movie, etc. It means we are craving honest and authentic encounters with people who are on a similar journey, encounters that remind us we are connected. Even if we have heard it before, there are moments when we need to hear it again or it speaks to us in new ways. In his book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Rob Bell writes about this connection that happens as we share our stories:
This is one of the reasons we watch movies, attend recovery groups, read memoirs, and sit around campfires telling stories long after the fire has dwindled down to a few glowing embers. It’s written in the Psalms that “deep calls to deep,” which is what happens when you get a glimpse of what someone else has gone through or is currently in the throes of and you find yourself inextricably, mysteriously linked with that person because you have been reminded again of our common humanity and its singular source, the subsurface unity of all things that is ever before us in countless manifestations but require eyes wide open to see it burst into view . . . when we talk about God, we’re talking about the very straightforward affirmation that everything has a singular, common source and is infinitely, endlessly, deeply connected. We are involved, all of us. And it all matters, and it’s all connected.
Deep calls to deep. Telling about it reminds us “of our common humanity and its singular source.” Whether it happens in movie, book, campfire, living room, hiking, blog, or around the dinner table form, when you have done the mindful work of paying attention and experienced the gratitude of being astonished, I hope you find the courage to tell about it.
Life never seems to be what I expect. It’s so much more. It looks extremely different than what I would have planned for myself when I was younger but as I pay attention to how things unfold I am continually grateful for the life I have been given to live and share with others. I believe that we have the opportunity to co-author our lives with God. There is the intricacy of who we are created by God to be, there are things that happen to us, there are choices we make–all of these things direct our paths.
I chose to finally pursue the PCT because I wasn’t sure what else to do at that moment in my life. Now that I’ve been home and off the trail for almost a year things have not magically come together perfectly or always made sense. In fact, there is still a lot of ambiguity about what is down the road. But through these lessons from the trail and listening to themes of my life the past few months, I am learning to be more present, to embrace the space in which I find myself, and be faithful in whatever circumstances to pursue the trail I am given to walk. As thru hikers say on the trail, “Hike your own hike.”
There is so much impatience in me, such a tendency to want answers now. To be on the other side of hard things now. To overcome now. It is in the paying attention, in being present, embracing, and being faithful in the circumstances, that I notice the slow work of God in my life and am able to rest in the unknown, recognizing and savoring life happening now, and be astonished.
My friend, Erin, shared this prayer of Teilhard of Chardin with me last week. I think it sums up so well what I’m learning on this journey:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
As you hike your own hike, may you be reminded to trust in this slow work of God. As you pay attention to life happening in and around you, may you be astonished by what you notice. And, in telling your story, may you know the deep connection of someone responding with, “Me, too.”
I’ll leave you with this. My friend, Sara, sent me letters on the trail. What a fun surprise to get to a trail town and have a letter at the post office when I picked up my resupply packages! One letter got lost along the way and I didn’t receive it until I was home in September. Included in her letter was this prayer from The Book of Common Prayer. I’m kind of glad the letter got lost because the prayer was exactly what I needed when I got home. I’ve read it almost daily since I received it.
Lord, help me now to unclutter my life, to organize myself in the direction of simplicity. Lord, teach me to listen to my heart; teach me to welcome change instead of fearing it. Lord, I give you these stirrings inside of me. I give you my discontent. I give you my restlessness. I give you my doubt. I give you my despair. I give you all the longings I hold inside. Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth; help me to listen seriously and follow where they lead through the breathtaking empty space of an open trail.
Much love, friends. Thanks for reading. #PCTami out.